Grasslands National Park worked closely with local stakeholders and neighbours to complete a Fire Management Plan in 2008. The plan focused on resource sharing, fire use and good fire control. Prescribed burning is identified as an important process that could benefit the Grasslands ecosystem. Parks Canada so reiterated its commitment to suppress all wildfires that occur in the park. More recently, the Park Management Plan (2010) committed to burning on average 75 hectares per year over a five year time span.
Why do we use prescribed fire in Grasslands National Park?
Prescribed fire is an important process that is used in Grasslands to achieve specific ecosystem objectives. These objectives include:
- shifting the composition of plants from a non-native to native community
- enhancing native plant seed production
- attracting large grazers (bison or livestock)
- reducing the amount of fuel loads in the park
How are prescribed fires conducted?
Teams of trained specialists plan prescribed fires well before ignition. The first step is to develop a burn plan reviewed by external specialists. Feedback from neighbouring stakeholders is also an important consideration The "prescription" describes the conditions and procedures necessary to burn safely and effectively. Fire managers use computer models and information networks to guide their decisions. They analyze weather, fuel conditions and topography to predict fire behaviour. Prescribed Fire is always under careful supervision.
Why not graze instead of prescribe burn?
Grazing offers some of the ecological benefits of fire, like removing grass and recycling nutrients, but affects the ecosystem in a different way than fire. Grazers are very important in the functioning of grassland ecosystems, and Grasslands National Park uses a combination of fire and bison/cattle grazing to achieve a diverse grasslands ecosystem.
What happens to the grass when we burn, doesn’t it die?
Grass responds very well to fire, it grows mostly from the bottom of the shoot. Prescribed fire is hot enough to remove the dead vegetation and if timed correctly, it does not harm the growth areas of the grass.
How are invasive species affected by fire?
Invasive species respond differently to fire depending on their growth form. For instance, grasses grow quickly after fire, and some forbs will grow in any bare soil left after a burn. Here in Grasslands National Park, fire and grazing are used to stress crested wheatgrass with the goal of diminished production.
What happens to animals in a fire?
Fire rarely traps large mammals. It may kill some small animals and birds. However, over the long term, most species benefit from the improvement to habitats created by fire. This can also improve wildlife viewing opportunities.
How does smoke from prescribed fires affect park visitors and communities?
As much as possible, prescribed fires are located and conducted under conditions that limit the smoke produced and direct it away from areas of human use.
Fire protection and prevention
Parks Canada uses prescribed fire to restore ecosystems and reduce the chances of severe, damaging wildfires. An Interpretive sign, about the use of fire in Grasslands National Park, is located at Two Trees Trail. Directions and additional information about prescribed burning can be obtained from the Grasslands National Park Visitor Centre located in Val Marie, Sk.